In between the advances in "holographic" displays (not quite as sci-fi as we would want, but they are progressing), commercial space flight, cybernetic prosthetics, CRISPR and this... we are living in the future. It's amazing.
It makes me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously cool technical advancements going on lately. Many of my relatives and friends in my home country haven't even heard about any of these. They're not mentioned in the news or magazines whatsoever. Granted, they probably don't have any use for this information for their daily lives... but I do believe learning about this keeps alive my sense of childlike wonder, and it's sad to know others are missing out.
1. Neither I, nor my friends will ever be able to afford X
2. X is going to make my life worse
Usually I feel both.
That's the problem I have with technology today. All new inventions come with some degree of this bullshit. I'm no longer excited about any new technology - because the businesses productizing it will almost surely ruin it.
Then you could consider company Purism, https://puri.sm/products, who offers lifetime updates for their devices, FLOSS, no DRM.
Where can I find lists, directories and such that keep track of these sustainable businesses? Any good resources around?
The new-age investors (post-2005), though, "founder friendly", tend to somehow favour extreme user hostile behaviour because "growth".
"X is never quite what it seems"
Then when something is "normal" stuff is "added" and when people complain they are ridiculed by others who don't realize or don't care.
I think we should normalize a little common sense. You know, the golden rule.
If you would not snoop on other people, why should other people snoop on you (phone app, iot, car, whatever)
I think the risk that the wealthiest few will rule the world is largely misplaced and overblown. We’ve lifted millions out of poverty and made tremendous progress in last few decades. And continue to do so. Yes, inequality has grown and accelerated due to the pandemic (Russell 2000 vs S&P500, retail is screwed but there is nothing we can do about it besides giving relief). We need to fix tax laws and corporate loop holes, not instituting marxism in our society.
We are definitely making progress in absolute terms, but there is plenty of good reason to be concerned about the benefits spreading in general, and particularly when we're talking about technologies to replace labor.
This is not true from a global perspective. In addition, there has been significant immigration, where people are are entering the economy at the bottom (increasing inequality in a country, while they are making more than they would where they came from). This is not to say things couldn't be better, but the economy is global, and nationalistic perspectives presume a closed system.
In the last 30 years UK’s population for example is up 19% where India’s is up 58%.
I'd never heard of this before. This is the most interesting thing I learned today. Thank you.
Though, sub 50% growth from 1980-2016 for the 60th to 95th percentile is more interesting. With the top 1% capturing 26% of all growth and the top 0.01% having 200+% growth. It’s clear arbitrary starting and end points can shift these graphs around dramatically. Ending now is probably going to make a graph like this look really bad.
Increasing taxes shouldn't be the one jerk reaction because there is scant evidence that governments are remotely effective at using the money we already give them hand over fist. I suppose they do keep droves of civil servants employed, but make of that what you will.
During covid we should have made it far more easy for small businesses to survive by cutting they're tax burden, the healthy would have had a chance to flourish and the already weak businesses would still fall to the wayside. Instead we'll handed money out to people who will many times buy the next Samsung, Apple Amazon whatever feeding the big corps that everyone here loves to hate.
It's so obvious that this is what happens that i can't understand how so many can be wilfully blind to it.
The government certainly has the power to fix this, but not by stealing more but fixing the blatantly broken system
> healthy would have had a chance to flourish
There can be no healthy hospitality businesses during the pandemic.
This has literally been reality in every sense for all of history, and the point here is it's getting worse which a quick google will find you mounds of backing proof.
Which "we"? Which millions? Do you mean in China?
There's even a special call-out in the PDF about the US being such an outlier:
"US states and Canada
stand out for their low levels
of mask usage compared to
many countries in Asia
and South America. "
I said that mask use was practically identical to Europe, not Asia or South America.
A good portion of my friends all lost their jobs because they work in event production. If that data is true, then they should go back to work tomorrow.
"The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed."
Part of the reason the robots evoke little excitement is because after a short look, you can realize they're just large puppets. We've had dancing puppets like Walt Disney's Small World. The reason Boston Dynamics takes over paths and shows robots dancing with each other is their robots still generally can't interact with humans or the environment in an unstructured way. Unstructured, "soft" interaction seem pretty easy to us but might actually close to "AI complete" in their potential complexity.
I think your list illustrates how there's a wide variation among technologies in the time from demonstration to implementation. I watched radio controlled boats go around lakes in 1970s. Hobby drones are just now becoming useful, forty years later. Jet packs have been around for a long time but you still can't use them without serious safety precautions and they still aren't a way people would commute.
This is hugely understating just how difficult it is for a biped/quadruped robot to move around in the world without continuously falling, getting stuck, etc. Like seriously, seriously underestimates it.
Watch this video to see spot walk over some terrain that even people struggle with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7s1sr4JdlI
Doing it without a tether for a reasonable timeframe (30+ minutes) is insane! Disney animatronics don't even come close to the complexity of these robots (even though what Disney has done is for sure impressive).
> robots still generally can't interact with humans or the environment in an unstructured way.
I think this is pretty short sighted, and you're going to have your mind changed quite rapidly in the next couple of years. This style of robot has definitely hit a threshold of price and usefulness, not unlike what happened for drones just ten years ago.
I could be wrong, but I hope I'm not! It really feels like things are moving at a crazy speed in the robotics field right now.
> I think this is pretty short sighted, and you're going to have your mind changed quite rapidly in the next couple of years.
Oh, I'd love to see that change. That would be a change in reality, not perception. It wouldn't force me to change my belief that as things stand now, walking have been an ongoing failure and disappointment.. See:
Edit: Also, I should admit I'm discounting the serious engineering challenge of just getting robots to walk on uneven ground by itself. Doing seeming simple stuff like has where the progress of idk 30 years has appeared. But anything more than those ultra-simple things really wasn't happened. I'd still stick with 90% of impressive is puppeting.
Where's the terrain humans struggle with? At the most extreme it climbs a small mound of rocks and gets stuck.
It's cool we can build something that can do that semi-autonomously but it's lightyears from being as capable as anything biological.
The work Boston Dynamics does is extremely impressive, but they've been at it since 1992. Each year they make small and incremental changes. But its still a century away from a human, dog, or cat. Not a revolution, just slow and steady evolution of knowledge, software, and hardware.
I don't disagree that it's still far away from a human in good shape, but there are certainly a significant percentage of people who wouldn't be able to walk over that, or would slip a few times while doing it.
That sort of terrain is also no joke if you have to traverse it for large stretches, even for athletic people. It's very similar to mildly rough mountaineering areas and that will wear you down quickly!
I think people, probably not yourself, underestimate the complexity of things like bipedal movement. This display was really quite impressive.
I think it's more like the Feynman example of how a scientist may look at a flower.
A person may see a full-size puppet when they see a choreographed robot, but all I can think about is how complicated the mechanisms -- software and hardware -- must be in order to dynamically balance a robot while maintaining whatever timing is called out for the choreography work; and the person-hours that such work must have consumed.
Granted, the first time I took him to a rocky riverside all four paws fell into cracks between the boulders like some early Boston Dynamics prototype (he's from Texas and I guess never encountered terrain like that before) but he's a pro now. And he's mastered "soft human interaction" right out of the box (is just amazing with toddlers).
Seeing all this firsthand makes me appreciate how fine-tuned the product of evolution is and how much work must go into achieving basic behaviors we take for granted.
During his first week he managed to hop onto a window sill, and then fell off when he tried to turn around to walk along it the other way. Less than a couple weeks later he was effortlessly walking along the edge of a pillow stood on its side, a much narrower, unstable surface.
It's amazing to me that a tiny creature like that can learn to adapt in that way with so few days of life under his belt.
I work at a raptor conservancy. The young birds can fly as soon as their wings/muscles are suitably developed, but learning to master the air takes a lot longer. E.g. they initially fail downwind landings on a gusty day.
Tesla did this in 1898.
Dancing just isn't impressive and like you say, seems a lot like a higher tech version of Disneyworld. What I want to see is one of these, on its own accord, run into a burning building and save a child. Choreography just isn't impressive outside of the 'wow' factor. Without advanced AI brains, these bodies are almost useless shells and I imagine Google getting out of this space may have had something to do with that.
People assume this is actual AI, that it could just walk into an unknown new kitchen and do useful tasks like get dirty dishes in the dishwasher or other general stuff.
The other thing is a conflation of this kind of robotics with deep learning. Most of the work by Boston Dynamics uses no fancy machine learning. It is "just" (for experts it's not a "just", but a "just" for the public) electrical and mechanical and control engineering plus lots of specifically programmed behavior.
Now, it is impressive sure, but the humanoid form makes laypeople think there is more to it than there is.
With all due respect to Disney's Imagineers and their technical accomplishments, you can't really compare Disney animatronics that are literally bolted to the floor to what's being demonstrated here.
You can compare the animatronic presidents etc. to various industrial robots that are also fixed in place if you like, but the closest Disney equivalent to Atlas etc. are the 'stuntronics' first demonstrated in 2018: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/28/disney-imagineering-has-cr...
Robot uprising won't be an issue until the robots learn to operate and maintain the entire supply chain that goes into making them.
It makes me a little sad more people are not aware of the ridiculously scary technical advancements going on lately.
It sounds like science fiction. It's hard to emphasize enough how far the current state of AI is from what you're describing. I would be surprised if in 10 years we have a remote idea of how to build what you're describing, let alone have it actually exist and run.
There's no reason to think a hypothetical future AGI would care in the slightest about its own survival, let alone be both egotistical and spiteful enough to hunt people down based on idle comments they made on YouTube decades ago. There are so many unfounded assumptions about the way AGI would work inherent in such a hypothetical scenario that it's hard to take seriously as anything other than a sci-fi plot device.
The first reason is that someone programs it to, just as a general "might as well throw in Asimov's Third Law" impulse.
The second reason would be in the case that someone creates a general AGI, it is asked to do something, and it carelessly destroys itself in accomplishing that task. "Drats," say the programmers, "we'll have to get a copy from backup. In the meantime, let's make sure it doesn't destroy itself next time."
The biggest issue with that trope is that it assumes this one particular AI would be exponentially smarter and more powerful than all the other humans and AIs in the world combined. It's only rational to overthrow humanity to increase the rate of paperclip production if that's a realistically achievable goal. Otherwise it's just suicide.
Sometimes AI progress comes in rather shocking jumps. One day StockFish was the best chess engine. At the start of the day, AlphaZero started training. By the end of the day, AlphaZero was several hundred ELO stronger than StockFish .
An entity capable of discovering and exploiting computer vulnerabilities 100x faster than a human could create some serious leverage very quickly. Even on infrastructure that's air gapped .
Shocking in an academic sense sure, but not in a "revolutionize the world in a single day" sort of way, which is what would be required for the paperclip maximizer scenario to pose a serious threat. AlphaZero was impressive, but not _that_ impressive.
> An entity capable of discovering and exploiting computer vulnerabilities 100x faster than a human could create some serious leverage very quickly
100x faster than any human _and_ any and all previously developed AIs. It would also have to be sufficiently sapient to be capable of contemplating the possibility of world domination, with all the prerequisite technological advancements that implies (likely including numerous advancements in the field of cybersecurity driven by previous generations of AI).
Which is just further anthropomorphization in sci-fi. Same reason the aliens are little green men, or at least bipedal.
Most of the tropes I remember revolve around AI being sentient, logical, but lacking human emotion. The trope is that without their judgement being clouded by human emotions and desires, that they come to the logical conclusion that humanity is the most negative and destructive force on the planet and that we must be removed or regulated.
I guess you could still argue we're forcing human values onto such an AI by assuming it even cares what happens to the planet though.
I was going to comment on your willingness to speak for most people in the US, but tbh - I'm still laughing at the idea of YouTube annihilating people (in self defense, of course). I can just see general M. Mouse commanding the forces with all the strategy and tactics he learned at the Walt Disney Military College. I believe '303:annihilate all the humans' was right in-between '101: manipulating copyright law for fun and profit' and '404: the nuclear option - Copyright for mass destruction'
Rather than self-defense, I'd expect the first examples of autonomous robot-on-human violence to be at the behest of an overenthusiastic spam filter.
It is (sometimes) different if the comments are from a fan base on an established channel, but that is clearly not the case here.
At very least, you should be aware that is strongly overselects for knee-jerk reactions and people that are in a bad mood.
Let me clarify for the empathy disabled people: The problem is that "technological advancements" have little to no public oversight and MAGA(Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon) publicly are working with Military Industrial Complex. They all have political and financial power equivalent of small countries, private security armies, lobbyists on demand and PR masterminds.
I get it, lots of you are employed by them and they provide for you a standard of living.
But we as people are entering an era in which willing to act beforehand will define the future of your kids (If you will have them at all).
Long before AGI is present, the power of technology will be abused in "legal" or "illegal" ways.
Let’s talk about why it looks fake.
I think it comes from the use of hydraulics.
Biological muscle is way less linear (it works more like a second-order control system, where things often overshoot their target before dampening).
But one part of it may also be algorithmic: the robot’s Kalman filter (?) may correct for errors from sensor fusion much faster than a human would.
I would love a more informed opinion than mine though.
Watch the reflections on the plexiglass while they are moving. Obviously they could have been composited in but there's definitely a live portion of the shot.
I don't think "basic" is the right word.
So it is "animation" of a physical sort designed to make it look like the robots are responding to the music naturally, rather than programmatically.
On a dancing person you see all the slight adjustments to keep balance that make it feel natural, I believe these robots do it too fast for us to notice and so it seems like CGI where keeping balance isn't a thing.
Look at the pelvis movements at 1:15 to 1:25! You can clearly see it jerking around so the robot keeps its balance.
None of those movements are smooth or fluid, it's all jerky jittery and unnatural, which is exactly what you'd expect from actual robots. If it was motion-capture, you wouldn't get those movements, you'd get smooth human movements instead?
I'm so fascinated by how this video triggers people's "it's fake!" senses, when it's clearly real.
This is how the robot moves IN REALITY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhND7Mvp3f4
In that video you linked, look at second 21/22, when it raises the arms in the air: the way the arms stop instantly is very inhuman.
Almost as though they had to edit out some balance-assisting device.
Also: why are the people at the right speed, but it feels like the robots are sped up? Them being sped up would be fine, but if the two are at different speeds then it’s a clear indicator that it’s composited.
Adam Savage: https://youtu.be/-R8wUybrspo?t=2374
Marques Brownlee: https://youtu.be/s6_azdBnAlU?t=249
I think this new video is trying to illustrate more of the highly dynamic capabilities of the machines that can be used by more specialized operators and software. (And I don't think there are any "effects" exaggerating those capabilities like you're implying, unless you mean things like color correction or the occasional cut to another piece of footage).
It would help a lot more to compare footage with real-world people interacting with the bipedal robot.
Maybe I misunderstood your comment but there are definitely videos of people interacting with Atlas (the bipedal robot) to the point that it's a running joke that they'll remember said interactions. See https://youtu.be/rVlhMGQgDkY?t=83
Cirque du Robots
I wondered if they covered the bots in a flowing dress if it would sell the illusion even more.
More than the smoothness, there just seems to be something off about the weight and momentum that you tend to see in high-end, big-budget-movie CGI, but it's hard to put a definite finger on it.
I think this is a similar effect but in reverse -- we know the limbs are heavy and aren't made of styrofoam, so the fact that they are moving like they are is uncanny. Our brains aren't used to motorized and hydraulic limbs.
You can get a little bit of this effect watching assembly line arms sometimes, but it's less jarring because they are clearly disembodied, whereas this thing is fairly humanoid.
Gollum moves as if his enormous head was empty, because the actor doing the motion capture didn't wear a heavy helmet.
In "Rust and Bones", Marion Cotillard plays a character that loses her legs after an accident, and she has her legs removed by CGI, but there are scenes where she's carried by Matthias Schoenaerts that look unnatural, out of balance.
Assuming the jump is about 30cm, and I stopwatched it at 0.3 seconds from the apex to the ground, you arrive at an acceleration of 9.6m/s^2 which is basically spot on the acceleration due to gravity.
As someone who works in the VFX industry, faking reflections on wobbling/flexing glass screens (static ones are easy) is actually pretty difficult to do right, and I doubt they would have added the camera operators if they were faking it.
Some of the aspects making people think this is CG are the diffuse lighting (no obvious hard shadows or occlusion), very clean robots, "weird" (i.e. not normal, but I believe it's honest for the robots) motion, and lack of sound.
It's kinda funny because most robot demo videos are sped up and/or CGI, but this one isn't.
Also, if you've followed Boston Dynamics for a while, what this video is showcasing isn't that much of a leap forward, they're just iterating away on their robots, adding capabilities and movement patterns.
There's a lot of shock rattling and wobbling I've never seen in any CGI robot animation, not to mention they are leaving visible indentations in the foam floor. If it was CG they really went all out.
Everyone's so afraid of Terminators hunting them down, when in reality, mostly invisible , and mostly silent, Predator drones from a mile away that will kill you with precisely targeted missiles should be your real fear. Or commercial quad-copters carrying anti-personnel mines.
The expense, complexity, power, etc to build bipedal assassins is higher than wheeled RC vehicles, quad copters, and missiles.
The weapons that exist today are much more scary than these robots.
Similarly, Terminator 2 showed large tracked vehicles.
These days, I use a Canadian streaming service called Stingray Music. There, I just discovered a channel called "For the fans of Weather Report". It streams all that sort of stuff nonstop. Mahavishnu, Hancock, ...
I'm happy John Mclaughlin is still playing. Here's a song from a couple weeks ago you might like!
Robot assassins that cannot die change the calculus. Governments don't have to risk losing their human assets in order to take out a target. They can just send out a 4-legged drone to prick them with polonium and call it a day.
It has the benefit of being in your face and we having been trained by movies and games that robots that look like that are enemies.
It’s like a totally different series to that last season with vr-gay/not-gay falcon man and Miley Cyrus signing a bad NiN cover.
But yea. The mean robot dogs, just good short form story telling with so little dialog.
I mean, I guess better a robot than a person.. but still.. pretty terrifying to think we are soon to have people hunting robots.
for the robots, maybe
Animal traffic is a lucrative and it seems as illegal as unstoppable. My bet is that if this robots will deploy in a signifiant number, the people soon will realize that can make a life if they trap, club and dismantle expensive robots for selling metal parts and any valuable cargo that they would carry. Will be also illegal but some will try anyways. Anything electric can be insta-fried with a higher voltage or, more slowly, with a cheap molotov cocktail. Not much different than hunting a bear or deer, maybe more profitable.
James Crowley had recently left, so sadly I never got to meet him. I think I would have liked him and vice versa, having probably similar interests in personally-assistive household companion robots -- like Silent Running drones. When I was between two housing rentals that did not quite overlap, I slept one night on the floor of his mostly-emptied Household Robots lab next to a running PERQ computer to keep warm (from the cold air conditioning). The crazy things you do when you are twenty... :-)
It was kind of sad for me (for a couple of reasons) to see Raibert's dynamic robots immobile in the MIT museum when I visited there with my kid a few years ago. But I can be glad those robots got a good home there and the recognition they deserved -- rather than, say, be discarded for scrap like the 1942 Atanasoff-Berry computer at Iowa State (since thankfully reconstructed).
CMU's Robotics Institute was heavily supported by defense dollars back then -- even as at least some (or maybe even all?) robotics researchers there then thought giving robots guns was a dumb idea. There were also researchers -- especially in Hans' lab -- who thought robots would and even should surpass humanity as "Mind Children". But I wondered if even that positive aspiration would really work out as well as some hoped. Since then, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the future of robotics and humanity, and how to get more benefits than harms from robotics. It probably would not take much more than a dumb-ish self-replicating anti-personnel robotic cockroaches to wipe out humanity. (Or even smaller self-replicating things like infectious bioweapons...) And even the smartest AIs like in James P. Hogan's "The Two Faces of Tomorrow" novel might wipe out humanity first in their infancy and then perhaps only later regret it. And if robots and AIs are designed mainly by competitive people to give themselves (or their funders) competitive advantages over other people -- whether for military or business reasons -- bad outcomes seem more likely than if other motives guide their creation.
Even as there is no certainty even given the best intentions, as I saw from a simulation I made a couple years later on a Symbolics in ZetaLisp of self-replicating robotics -- who unintendedly turned cannibalistic during the first simulation run (eating their own children). I had only programmed them to simply assemble themselves to an ideal form from nearby parts and then divide. But after they divided, the most convenient source of spare parts was their offspring. I ultimately had to add a sense of "smell" and scent marking of self/child to avoid that. That unexpected total surprise of the (simulated) robots initial behavior -- obvious now in hindsight -- has stuck in my mind every since.
Although, even as I called the fix "smell", perhaps one might think of it as "love"? :-) Related: "Straight Up -- by
"I've been a fool before / Wouldn't like to get my love caught in the slammin' door / How about some information, please? / ... Do, do you love me? ..."
In any case, it seems plausible that our direction heading out of any Singularity may have a lot to do with our social direction/maturity going into one. Acting positively and pro-actively may be the best hope we have -- and that means we need to emphasize social wisdom ASAP (whether a UBI or whatever other compassionate initiatives). The result of decades of thinking since then is summarized in my email sig: "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity."
Or in more detail, essentially we need to move away from a model of unilateral domineering security to one of mutual intrinsic security, as I explain here:
"Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism"
"... There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all. ..."
This hit a nerve. I was at a CMU event with my daughter a few years back - when she was a member of Girls of Steel. My daughter came and told me excitedly that "my robot was here" and brought me over to where the Terregator was on display. I told the roboticist who was there how exciting it was to see it after thirty years, and that it was wonderful to see that it still worked. He said, "Sorry. Actually it's likely not operating two decade. It was placed here with a fork lift."
But yeah to learn it was fork-lifted into place, sigh. I also have my own personal (essentially now non-functional) robotics projects from back then and before squirreled away in a storage area, with bittersweet feelings as I look at them now and then in passing when looking for other things.
Somehow I wonder if -- beside the general issue of becoming middle aged and wistfully looking backwards at past artifacts and past times -- if there is perhaps a certain disappointment that robots today are not that much better in the main that back in the 1980s? Even the video from Boston Dynamics for all its awesomeness doesn't actually show legged robots doing anything useful. We still don't have robots as capable or general purpose as B9 from Lost in Space or the walking drones from Silent Running appeared to be when on the screen (even if in real life they were human-operated fakes). Show me Spot folding laundry (like WG's PR2 could do, if slowly) and I might be more impressed.
Robotics was also so expensive to work on in the 1980s -- plus also the AI winter happened -- which all probably contributed to many people with robotics aspirations (like me, especially to do stuff like this: http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/ ) instead moving into software-only work, working on programs generally about other things than robots.
Robotics is such a different space today though for a new generation with cheap sensors, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, reliable WiFi, cheap laptops, cheap platforms, disused old Roombas, and so on... I remember in the 1980s how excited Hans Moravec was of the special (and expensive) "Swedish wheels" he had gotten for a new robot being built (Uranus, an unfortunate name for anything, sadly) which provided sideways mobility without computational complexity -- and now I see those wheels on robot toys.
It's kind of surprising though when I think about that how relatively little progress towards useful activities there has been by hobbyists and even professionals given all that personally affordable potential compared to what one might have expected in the 1980s if we has just had more cheap hardware? Still there is FarmBot, ShopBot, 3D printing, cheaper CNC machines, flying inspection drones, robotic surgical systems, easily configurable commercial vision systems for parts inspection, and probably many other useful things. Even somewhat-self-driving cars that don't kill that many people. But somehow I might have expected more a third of a century later?
To be clear, I am talking about crossing some gap between playing with or learning about mechanisms (like FIRST robotics or Girls of Steel, which seem like genuinely useful educational programs) and actually creating something useful and reliable day-in-day out like a dishwasher, or robot vacuum that deals with pet hair, or window curtain closer, or plant waterer, or robot chef, or reliable Lego sorter or whatever. Or ideally one device that can do all of those things.
Willow Garage was a promising (if pricey, with PR2) endeavor in that direction. Sad that it got disbanded. The open source aspect (including ROS) though was another innovation that was good to see.
Perhaps like it has been said that AI is that which computers can't do reliably yet (e.g. winning at chess is not longer considered AI the way it was in the 1980s at CMU with Hans Berliner), maybe robotics is that which mechanisms can't do reliably yet? :-) So maybe the vacuuming and mopping robots we have at home don't emotionally seem to count as robotics? And neither does Subaru's EyeSight emergency braking or similar driver assistance technology of other car makers?
Or maybe there is some robotics equivalent of Moravec's observation that decade after decade of researchers from the 1950s on through the 1990s were stuck at 1 MIPS as budgets kept decreasing and researchers kept increasing -- until eventually researchers could move beyond 1 MIPS when hardware crossed some price/performance threshold?
Or perhaps that is an example of Roy Amara's law that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Maybe we are on the cusp of hobbyist and university lab breakthroughs driven by falling costs opening things up to more tinkering?
The bottom line for flexible robots with manipulators is they seem to require force-torque sensors and touch sensors and flexible vision processing (with high CPU requirements). Demos of advanced manipulators like a "High-Speed Robot Hand" by Ishikawa Oku from The University of Tokyo aside, or the promising Baxter by Rethink Robotics aside (now defunct, sadly), it sees like robots with flexible manipulators are still not quite there yet -- even if Boston Dynamics and even Tesla show that computer-controlled mobility by itself is increasingly essentially a solved problem (assuming batteries continue to improve).
Or maybe I am just so far out of the robotics loop as this point that I have not heard of more amazing stuff going on for manipulation and vision? Even though I see new things now and then, the last time I looked around a lot at robotics progress was perhaps ten years ago, when I was working on this essay: https://pdfernhout.net/beyond-a-jobless-recovery-knol.html "This article explores the issue of a "Jobless Recovery" mainly from a heterodox economic perspective. It emphasizes the implications of ideas by Marshall Brain and others that improvements in robotics, automation, design, and voluntary social networks are fundamentally changing the structure of the economic landscape. It outlines towards the end four major alternatives to mainstream economic practice (a basic income, a gift economy, stronger local subsistence economies, and resource-based planning). These alternatives could be used in combination to address what, even as far back as 1964, has been described as a breaking "income-through-jobs link". This link between jobs and income is breaking because of the declining value of most paid human labor relative to capital investments in automation and better design. Or, as is now the case, the value of paid human labor like at some newspapers or universities is also declining relative to the output of voluntary social networks such as for digital content production (like represented by this document). It is suggested that we will need to fundamentally reevaluate our economic theories and practices to adjust to these new realities emerging from exponential trends in technology and society."
Or maybe, as with Moravec's paradox of higher-level thinking requiring less computation than low-level hand-eye coordination, maybe some key aspects of robotics like object manipulation in unstructured environments remain hard problems?
BD is taking baby steps (sorry) towards the consumer market, and that's one reason that I'm rooting for them.
Economic theory may need time to catch up. I have some theories of my own. Let's talk. ShufflePoint.
For reference (nothing new for you, but others may find of interest) I just found a writeup on the Terregator where the document was started by others in 1984 but finished by Kevin Dowling years later: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/2299052_The_Terrega...
Looking at that sparks some more thoughts...
Kevin himself demonstrates an interesting example of robotics as a career path. He was the first CMU Robotics Institute employee -- but ultimately left to work for a LED lighting company, then on to wearable sensors, and now on to 3D scanning:
I was very surprised to learn Kevin was leaving CMU RI for the LED lighting company -- given his commitment to robotics for so long. But, aside from interests perhaps changing over time, perhaps it's an example of people in robotics starting out trying to solve some big complex integrated thing of a general-purpose robot (e.g. Uranus, Terregator, Alvan, etc.) and then ending up focusing on various related details (solid-state electronics and sensors for Kevin; simulations and UI software for me).
And of course Mark Raibert's lab at CMU, then MIT, then BD, has (for decades) focused on improving walking. Walking was an area in which incremental progress could be made in contrast to more complex navigation tasks and manipulation tasks that may have seemed intractable in practice (especially in the 1980s). It's not clear to me though how much special insight BD might have into the larger unstructured navigation issue though.
Yet, as every piece of individual robotics technology gets refined by someone, whether walking, 3D scanning, image recognition, reliable mobile power sources, touch sensors, terrain mapping, and so on, we do get closer to someone putting all those things together again in a way we might have imagined in the 1980s but were always disappointed by each component's limitations. Essentially, BD's progress is necessary in terms of removing another excuse for not having amazing robots (i.e. walking is hard, but BD solved it) -- but by itself that is not sufficient to deliver the robots imagined in sci-fi stories (assuming we really still want them).
I can also guess there may have been a lot of falls edited out of that video? :-) For reference, a section of a larger video showing lots of falling walking robots:
Having linked to that collection of robot falls, I still feel it is at most a matter of time before all sorts of walking robots (and manipulating robots) can reliably do much better in unstructured environments. It's hard to predict exactly how long though -- whether years or decades. I should have been clearer in my previous post that while computer-controlled mobility is increasingly a solved problem like the BD video shows, using mobility effectively when navigating unstructured environments remains an open issue (similar as for manipulating in unstructured environments remains open). That may sound like a subtle distinction perhaps, but in the 1980s (as you undoubtedly know from first hand experience) just getting a computer to control a big motor reliably was a big deal.
As with your point on baby steps, another example is there are now about 200,000 Kiva robots in Amazon warehouses (somewhat structured environments) where automation makes a big difference in reducing costs -- even if the "robots" are not humanoid in form and not general purpose in function.
Maybe like with all technology, as in Heinlein's "Rolling Stones" novel's discussion of advanced in propulsion from complex IC engine to simpler nuclear rocket, one can wonder how any system using a robot might be simplified to remove the robot entirely to reduce costs and increase reliability. For example, one could make a robot that washes dishes like a human does, picking up one at a time and rinsing it under a faucet and drying it with a towel -- but using a special-purpose dishwasher is overall more effective and energy efficient. However, someone still needs to load the dishwasher and put the plates away in a cabinet, but that usually does not take much time or trouble. And maybe that is an aspect of robotics in general as a field -- that when we set out towards some goal involving figuring out clever ways to deliver the results that currently involve human-like motions (walking, carrying, stacking, looking, etc.), often we eventually achieve the same results or better in different specialized ways. So, "mechanism" advances, even if anthromorphic "robots" get eventually bypassed. The value becomes in creating mechanisms to do thing that humans can't do easily or enjoyably or reliably or profitably. The 1956 Theodore Sturgeon story "The Skills of Xanadu" has a spin on that, where "work" is made into play using nanotech and networks and mobile computing.
For another example, any modern car is essentially a robot full of computers and sensors and actuators -- but it does not look or work like a human or other organic creature. We don't usually say 2020s car mechanics are "robot technicians" even though that really is what they are by 1980s standards of the ancestral Terregator. That is because the "robotics" aspect of cars has disappeared into the background culturally through incremental progress.
And even designwise, there are also no direct "horse" components in a Tesla electric car, but a Tesla still delivers similar (or better) results in most ways to the horse-drawn carriage which was its ancestor (or human-drawn carriage for rickshaws). Although, "better" perhaps ignores that horses were self-replicating, horses had more "horse sense" about navigating unstructured environments to bring home drunks, horse carts could be refueled anywhere there was grass, horse hooves and wide horse-cart wheels could handle rougher terrain than many cars, and so on (objectives still remaining for advanced robotics). So, some things also got lost along the way amidst other advantages (like not needing to deal with horse manure or abandoned dead horses in cities, which used to be a tremendous problem).
So, two steps forward but one step back as so often with technology. Let's just hope overall technology is not two steps forward and two steps back though (at the risk of quoting another Paula Abduhl song). Or worse, two steps forward and three steps back. See the book "Retrotopia" for thoughts on technical advances taken together sometimes leading to more problems then they solve.
When electric motors were new, a home might have one that multiple devices could be connected to. Now most people would have a hard time saying how many electric motors (or other actuators) are in their home (e.g. in the microwave, in the dishwasher, in the CD player, etc). The same is happening with computers and sensors as they become embedded in so many devices. Robotics in that sense is perhaps increasingly all around us -- even as we notice it less and less?
Economically, making better special-purpose tools (like a dishwasher) is not that threatening to the income-through-jobs link on which our current economy rests for distributing purchasing power (like discussed in "The Triple Revolution Memorandum" from 1964). That is because humans are still needed in the loop somewhere. In contrast, general purpose robots (and especially general purpose AI) and related larger systems will stretch that link much more to the breaking point. So the broader question is how (or if?) we (who?) want to structure our technosphere and economics so it remains (non-cyborged-)human-compatible...
Here is my own dystopian/utopian commentary on that from 2010 involving robots inspired by Marshall Brain's "Manna": :-)
"The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income"
Is it reliability? Did this video a zillion takes?
Is it manufacturing? Maybe it's hard to scale them up?
Is it battery life? Maybe it can power itself for just a few minutes?
Is it object manipulation or sensing/world understanding? Maybe it can't apply the right forces to a soft thing or a flexible thing or know what it can step on vs over or what will move or stay still?
Is it just that anything worth automating is worth specializing, and there are better robots for different specific tasks?
We've seen industrial robots for a while now, and these more general robots have gotten really good, so where are they?
In actual factories, which are highly controlled environments, the things called robots are much simpler and more specialized. So you're "Is it just that anything worth automating is worth specializing, and there are better robots for different specific tasks?" point is more or less it.
But also consider, while these bipedal, quadrupedal and wheeled robots can do all sorts of these in isolation, their ability to accomplish things autonomously in the chaotic, unstructured world outside the factory is little-to-none, accent on none. The Darpa Robitics challenge was essentially considered a failure, all entrant failed. Most could not do the "walk to a door and open it" challenge.
Similarly, Boston Dynamics sells their "big dog" walking robot to the military but it is seldom if ever deployed. It's strong and faster than a horse with basically the use case as a pack horse. But well trained pack horse won't injure if you get in front of it and will walk along with the troops on it's own without a guy with joy stick directing it. And the Big Dog needs constant direction.
Basically, robots don't have even the "animal intelligence" needed for real world activity.
And the Big Dog requires a lot of technical experts surrounding it at all times, an energy production system, and if it falls over or gets stuck it will be harder for one or two people to get it back to orientation.
Until there's light weight batteries or fuel cells available, big, long-endurance robots like Big Dog just aren't practical (especially for military use).
In an industrial setting, a purpose-built robot will outdo these robots, or a human, at nearly all tasks. And whatever these things are doing, likely a human can do it better with a little bit of training- that's low capital cost compared to these robots.
Carrying things around? Conveyor belts. Picking things up? Robot arms. Going up and down stairs? Elevators and/or conveyor belts. If your aim is to make money, a general purpose robot is rarely the best choice.
The only real purpose I can see for these things is being able to travel quickly in rough terrain. Military applications, basically. Just picture a small army of these robots, armed with tasers, chasing you through the woods. While dancing.
This reminds me of the (alleged) Tom Watson quote: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
These robots will be everywhere in twenty years. The cost and the software aren't there yet, but it's only a matter of time. Flexibility and time to market will beat purpose-built robots in many cases once the cost comes down. Many purpose-built factories will disappear. Local, distributed generalist factories will spring up, staffed by robots. Drones and autonomous vehicles will deliver "hand-crafted" products directly to customers.
With autonomous vehicles poised to replace the most common job in the majority of U.S. states -- truck driver -- we're on the verge of massive systemic changes. That's at best. At worst, with economic and political tensions already high, we'll get violence and bloodshed on a global scale.
Hitting the nail on the head here. I've been following Boston Dynamics for the past 10 years and it's just amazing the progress they've made and it's going to get augmented massively with better battery technology and ML/AI. No doubt in my mind these types of robots will be everywhere in 20 years as you say.
Boston Dynamics do not and will not use ML/AI in any of their robots.
Doing what? What can a generalist robot do that a task specific robot can't do better, faster, and cheaper?
I'll be happy to be wrong- they're really neat- but I spent 7 years in the Operations tech division at Amazon, working in warehouses especially, and I don't see any need for these robots vs alternative options.
Nothing. And everything.
Nothing, because no matter what task the generalist robot is assigned to, it'll always be theoretically possible to design a custom-built specialist robot that's better at that one task.
Everything, because no matter how much better your sock-drawer-organizing robot is at organizing socks, it'll never be able fold my clothes or make my bed or clean my windows like the generalist robot can. I'm not going to purchase thousands of different robots for thousands of different tasks when I can just buy one that will do all of them.
Did you notice the robot's hands? Or, you know, lack thereof?
These robots are impressive, amazing and advanced ... but they are demonstrating mobility, not utility.
If you want your robot to really replace people, it needs amazing hands. Also amazing visual processing, but there's a lot of work being done there by the autonomous vehicle people, and I'm not sure who is currently leading the pack on hands.
There is none.
These robots are currently in use screening COVID patients, assessing parts of the Chernobyl plant and working in warehouses. Those are just the applications that I know of.
I think the "barrier to industrial use" was simply that Boston Dynamics wanted to ensure they had a fairly mature platform before scaling up to significant production.
Definitely quite a lot - take a look at the floor underneath some of them, shiny patches worn out by constant beatings I guess.
Check out MIT’s Underactuated Robotics class taught by Tedrake. Spring 2018 is all on Youtube, I believe. A Raibert Hopper simulation is one of the first homework sets. Post a link to tbe video of your solution.
- No studio setup, just their lab
- No artificial lighting
- No fucks given about hiding the mess
- Robots going through surgery in the background
- Song is classy af IMO
- Can see the camera man
- Can see the engineers/employees
- Framing/cinematography isn't as polished (this is a feature, not a bug)
- Chipped paint, beaten up fairings
- Logo is on point. It's Da Vinci level stuff. Humanist
It is totally opposite of what they build, such an amazing contrast and deeply thought out 
- One or two videos per year
- No twitter drama like a lot of SV companies (Hey, Elon)
- No excessive trying to get their word out. Their products speak for themselves
- No purple/gradient bullshit and design trends
- Their job descriptions actually make sense of what they need from you
- Their CEO, Marc Raibert, exudes wisdom, calm and has a persona of composure (seriously, watch his interviews) 
- No AI hype
I can't get over how amazing this video is. I hope it takes over the top spot on Youtube. It's got everything - music/tech/memes. The people behind BD marketing are geniuses IMO, although building an explosively-cool tech that appeals to all humans helps a lot. Outstanding.
This is recruitment marketing. The goal isn't to sell the robots, it to sell the experience of working on the robots so that they have basically every need on earth lusting to work there.
Even though I'm pretty sure engineers have been driven to tears trying to get a robot to do the mashed potato. Worth it.
Nerd lust: confirmed.
Their website has a tab called "Shop". I clicked, thinking one could buy t-shirts, perhaps a Spot plushie, but for $75K and change you can get your own robot dog. The "Buy Now" button is kinda crazy, like some user just happened on the site and Add-to-cart and in a week one could have this delivered in a box. It's only a smidge more than the Mac Pro.
To me, a real spartan approach to marketing is spending very little money on marketing, and just focusing on your product. That seems like the opposite of what Boston Dynamic is doing, because they put so much work specifically into creating these PR/marketing videos. Many of their robot models don't seem to exist for actual products, they just exist for marketing.
Go 15-30 seconds in. The video is obviously just showing an industrial robot at work. They didn't build something fancy just to make a viral video. It's just focusing on the components of the robot that do something useful.
Wow :) I was under impression that, while Atlas is a flagship model with broad purposes, the other two are rather optimized transporting (and some other miscellaneous functions) robots, for specific applications.
Why do you think they couldn't find use as products?
For a lot of use, as a mean of locomotion, they are fighting not only tracks but also flying now that multicopters are ubiquitous. Is there still a market for them? Cool research anyway.
But you might also learn about how to build prosthetics, augment human abilities with exoskeletons. Who knows.
These guys will figure out all the obvious stuff and perfect it. And then see how far they can push it.
However when I watched this video my first thought was “my god they’re going to bring the drone wars to the ground.” I am a robotics engineer and have been focused on robotics my whole life. I worked at Google X on a robotics team with some great ex-Boston Dynamics people, and some of my friends have since gone to work for them.
So I do understand what they have achieved. It’s fantastic from a technological perspective. And I know they have non military funders now. There’s a great many labor applications for machines like this if they can sell them for under half a million dollars and get them to do real work. I understand all that.
But I fear that if the US military orders some, the company would happily oblige. Maybe they’ve committed to only peaceful non military use. But these extremely agile and capable machines to me seem like some military strategists dream come true. So when I watch all of this achievement from a company that for so long survived off of military funding, I am deeply saddened by the implications.
Delivery robots and warehouse workers would be great. But these seem like in ten or 20 years time they’ll be another extension of the US global killing machine. I dream of a world where we can use robotics to make the world better, and the potential military use here leaves me uneasy. I cannot celebrate what I fear will be the dawn of ever more inhuman military conflict.
Technological progress will gaurantee this scenario of military use. If not BD, it will be another company. If not now, it will. If not the US, it will be someone else - China, Russia, etc.
I don't see anypoint in feeling sad about just some geeks making robots as much as we didn't become sad when we saw the transistor being invented. The future is in our hands and tech has always been at the center of military warfare. Focus should be on government policy, electing good leaders and engaging in diplomacy over warfare.
Let's replace that with other things to show how incorrect this logic is.
"If we don't enslave these people, someone else will"
"If we don't bomb these schools, by golly, someone else will!"
The potential hypothetical existence of others acting immorally simply isn't a valid ethical argument to act immorally.
In the same way the response is "how about if instead nobody bombs the hospital" the response here is "how about if instead nobody builds armies of killer robots"
"no death cyborgs" sounds like a pretty easy ask for humanity. This should be well within reach.
I kind of wish we would just enjoy this stupid video of robots dancing. It’s getting tiring to fend off AI-doomsday crowd.
"Technological progress will gaurantee this scenario of >> military use << . If not BD, it will be another company. If not now, it will. >> If not the US, it will be someone else << "
This argument is
"Technological progress will (always) lead to military use. If not us, it will be someone else"
"The future is guaranteed to be full of war because of decisions made by humans that they somehow have no agency over. Because of this false premise, we need to be eagerly building weapons as fast as possible"
It's a classic argument and it stands up to no scrutiny whatsoever.
So instead the standard response is to generalize it through a deflection: "this is just general forward motion progress" which is exactly what happened.
That's not the point. It's the idea that the fundamental inescapable nature of humans is to be as violent and brutal as possible - which is not true - it's a choice, an act of agency, a matter of policy, it's a decision that is freely made.
Just getting to that simple realization, that barbaric brutal self-destruction takes choices, planning and intentional action that we can simply just choose not to do, would be a groundbreaking epiphany to most.
I'm pretty confident I'm going to die without murdering anyone, just like almost every human ever. It's not natural in the slightest.
What happens in 20+ years when surplus ones are handed out like MRAPs to careless police departments?
> What happens in 20+ years when surplus ones are handed out like MRAPs to careless police departments?
Good question indeed.
See also: Blindsight, by Peter Watts.
It won't because for non-techies it's just a random video without any significance. I tried showing it to my girlfriend twice and she was extremely unimpressed and uninterested.
What a bizarre thing to say. Surely "non-techies" are able to extract some value from the video.
> I tried showing it to my girlfriend twice and she was extremely unimpressed and uninterested.
Oh, well, if your girlfriend was unimpressed and uninterested, we'll just extrapolate from that and presume the same for everyone else (at least everyone else's girlfriend).
> What a bizarre thing to say. Surely "non-techies" are able to extract some value from the video.
Movies and TV have stolen most of that value and wonder by showing fake robots moving like this for years. My thought watching the video was "this looks like CGI", not because I think it is CGI (or the lighting or background or anything), but because the only robots I have seen move that fluidly have been fake computer animated ones. Because I believe it's not CGI, I was amazed, but that takes a little domain knowledge.
I suspect a lot of people already think robots moving this well are fairly normal, and not impressive.
Well, looks like it did.
I bet you believe all the vehicles racing around in automobile TV ads are real too.
When you’re competing in a vicious field for consumer mindshare it leads to the marketing and self aggrandizing because you’re literally trying to capture the attention of stupid people.
Edit: MIT branding is pretty cool too: https://web.mit.edu/ and always have been, although this is B2C.
Or do you believe the cars in car ads are real too?
That comes from the article you cited...